These home recordings are only MP3 quality, but if you’ve never heard a lute before should give you some idea of what they sound like. I plan to add regularly to this page – so please come back to see what’s new! As I add to the page I will include different lutes and music from different periods of the history of the lute. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the most recent additions, or see the For Sale page for short recordings of listed instruments.
First attempts – January 2008
Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543) was the most famous lutenist of the 16th century, whose compositions continued to be admired and played 100 years after his death – in fact we still love them (for more about Francesco, and more of his music, including free scores, see my Francesco da Milano page). The terms “fantasia” and “recercar” are interchangeable at this period, the pieces usually employing imitation of short phrases in different “voices” and exploring the possibilities of a particular theme.
What makes Francesco’s music so special is that although typically only two or three voices are sounding at any one time, he gives the illusion of more voices by introducing his themes in different registers. This means the player can concentrate on playing expressively without having to struggle too hard to keep all the balls in the air! The lute I’m playing here is based on the Gerle lute (no. 3 in my catalogue). I made it in 1985, so it has had some time to mature. It is strung all in gut, with octaves on courses 4-6. The 5th course is a pistoy from Dan Larson and the 6th is a “Real gut” string from George Stoppani.
Fantasia (Ness 41):
Recercar (Ness 10):
Recercar (Ness 15):
Same lute, different style of music – English, anonymous, from the 1590s, a set of variations on the Spanish Pavan (Welde lute book, f.1 and Dd.9.33, f.82v.):
Recording data: Zoom H2 using the built-in mics at 90 degrees, about .5m in front of the lute; WAV format at 48KHz/24-bit; reverb added using Nero Wave Editor (reverb time 1000ms, room size 385 sq.m., brightness 70%, dry signal 0dB, effect -4dB), and reduced to MP3 format 128Kbps. The room I recorded in has a hard floor and lots of glass and a high ceiling, so is fairly lively.
A comparison of three different-sized lutes – February 2008
In the past, many different sizes of lutes were made. Today, lutes of about 60cm string length tuned in G are by far the most common, but I think we should be more adventurous! Here are three different lutes playing the same short piece – A recercar by Francesco da Milano (Ness 4):
The first lute is 67.3cm string length, tuned in E, the second is 53.5cm tuned in A (no.1 in my catalogue) and the third is 60cm tuned in G. All three are strung completely in gut. The E lute has a unison 4th course and a 7th course (not used in this piece), the other two have six courses and octaves on courses 4-6. The basses on the A lute are “Venice” strings from Aquila.
Recording data: distance .7m; 44.1KHz/16-bit; reverb: 1250ms, -8dB). This room has a drier acoustic.
The Frenchification of the lute in the early 17th century – April 2008
French dances, especially the courante, were to become a popular vehicle for ingenuity of both dancers and musicians. This piece by René Saman (fl. 1610-31), lutenist to Louis XIII, is found in some English sources and is typical of the new style which was much imitated by English musicians:
The lute is a nine-course lute, again strung completely in gut. See my catalogue (7-9 courses, no.6) for a similar instrument.
The influence of choral music on lute music – May 2008
From the earliest days (in the 15th century) of playing with their fingers rather than a plectrum, lutenists were keen to play the best music by the best composers, and that largely meant music for voices by church-based musicians. But they also used these pieces as inspiration for their own compositions – in this case the lutenist has taken the opening theme of the motet Verbum iniquum by Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500 -1553) as a starting point (see the score).
Fantasia by Benedict de Drusina (1556):
A quick burst of Dowland – June 2008
An invitation to contribute some pieces to a sadly now-defunct website dedicated to John Dowland (1563-1626) resulted in some recordings of a few short pieces – there will be more to follow, including some longer and more elaborate pieces. This is the same six-course lute as above, but at least it’s a different style of music!
Galliard (Awake sweet love):
Lute duets c.1600 – July 2008
A visit from my old friend Stewart McCoy prompted a couple of scratch performances of two favourite lute duets. “Larossignall” [le rossignol=the nightingale] is anonymous. “My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home” is a lute solo by John Dowland with a second lute part added (by Dowland or anon.) to turn it into a duet.
My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home:
Any questions or comments? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org